CVC Watch

Posted March 19, 2007 at 6:30pm

With Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) making a push last week to rename the Capitol Visitor Center’s Great Hall to set the space apart from the Library of Congress space with the same moniker, House appropriators may confront the issue today when LOC officials testify. [IMGCAP(1)]

Wamp, ranking member of the House Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, has said the CVC space should be renamed the Abraham Lincoln Hall. Doing so not only would avoid confusion with the LOC space, he said, but also honor one of America’s greatest presidents, a man who served in Congress and pushed for the Capitol Dome to be built in the midst of the Civil War.

And since slave labor was used to build the Capitol, renaming the 20,000-square-foot Great Hall — which is the focal point of the new underground facility — after the man who freed the slaves would be a proper tribute, Wamp said last week.

In addition, Lincoln’s 200th birthday will be celebrated in 2009, less than a year after the CVC is expected to open. That anniversary also is expected to coincide with the LOC’s unveiling of the final phase of the “Jefferson Building New Visitor Experience,” a privately funded endeavor that will showcase the Library and complement the CVC. Librarian of Congress James Billington is expected to testify about the progress of the Jefferson Building NVE at today’s hearing on future digital projects at the agency.

“I don’t think [Billington] has an opinion on any individual alternative per se, but it is an issue that he and the Library have been raising since the earliest days of the CVC construction,” LOC spokesman Matt Raymond said of the CVC’s Great Hall. “First of all for confusion’s sake. But also because there’s already a Great Hall that has existed on Capitol Hill for 110 years. No one wants to detract from the historical aspect of that.”

While Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), the chairwoman of the legislative branch panel, said last week that she is “supportive and sensitive to Mr. Wamp’s concerns about it being confusing that there are two Great Halls and it diminishing the status and stature of the Great Hall in the Library of Congress,” she did point out that way-finding signage for the CVC Great Hall already has been ordered. But she added that the subcommittee is looking into what the cost would be to rename the space at this late date.

One House staffer pointed out Monday that Wamp’s push to rename the CVC space is a decision that’s probably beyond the scope of the subcommittee’s oversight purview and that a name change may potentially require a joint resolution with the Senate. The staffer also questioned whether naming issues should even be a priority for the subcommittee right now with so many other issues affecting the CVC’s completion deadline and final price tag.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who was one of the earliest supporters of the CVC project on Capitol Hill, pointed out Monday that any naming issues for the new facility would be more appropriately handled by the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on economic development, public buildings and emergency management, the panel that has authority over naming public buildings.

Mica, who serves as ranking member of the full committee, noted that the Transportation and Infrastructure panel held some of the very first hearings on the CVC when it was proposed originally and “we intend to take jurisdiction on some of these final issues.”

Mica said he’s talked to Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and subcommittee Chairwoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) about taking charge of more CVC issues, “which we should do.”

Mica said he wasn’t exactly taken by Wamp’s Abraham Lincoln Hall suggestion but noted that “there are probably no bad ideas at this point in time. … I think we’ll be taking all the suggestions and looking at them.”

If Mica had a top choice for a new name for the space he said, “there are so many patriots, I was thinking maybe Patriots Hall in honor of both past and current patriots.”

Laura Condeluci, a spokeswoman for Sen. Wayne Allard (R-Colo.), who held monthly CVC progress hearings during the 109th Congress when he served as chairman of that chamber’s Appropriations subcommittee on the legislative branch, said this week that “the Senator hasn’t gotten aboard on any naming plans yet. He wants to make sure they finish building the center first.”

In other CVC/LOC news, the Government Accountability Office testified last week that the Architect of the Capitol is less than a million dollars away from going over the $10 million cap that Congress set for building a tunnel to connect the CVC to the Jefferson Building.

Congress included the funding for the tunnel as part of a 2002 emergency supplemental bill that set aside $38.5 million for security upgrades at the Capitol following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“There are ongoing delays and they do not have a lot of money left,” GAO Director Terry Dorn said last week.

But CVC spokesman Tom Fontana downplayed the concerns raised by the GAO about tunnel funding.

“Right now we’re on track to have the tunnel opened in concert with the rest of the CVC,” Fontana said. “We’re nearing the end of construction, so therefore we are nearing the end of funding.”